Norsemen Antedated Columbus
REVIEW of REVIEWS
Extraordinary New Light Thrown on Early Discoveries in America by Scientific Documents Published in Scandinavia.
A. DR. A. FREDENHOLM
This remarkable article has been svecially translated for MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE from the original Swedish publication. J. A. Hagglund, the translator, is editor of the Canadian Swedish magazine, the FORUM, associate editor of the Scandinavian publication, NORDISK JUL, SVENSKA CANADA TIGNINGEN, and also Grand Secretary for the Scandinavian Grand Lodge of I. O. G. T., served for four years at the front with the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, and was decorated with the D. C. M., as well as receiving other honors.
Eric the Red, Norse sagas and vikings are mixed up in the minds of most Canadians, school-children, as well as those of more mature years, but mainly as myths. To most of us they appear in the same category as Alfred the Great’s burned cakes, the Lady Godiva’s adventures in super-flapper costume, or even Little Red Ridinghood. It will come as a surprise to many of us to realize what a mass of scientific evidence there is showing that this continent was not only discovered but settled by Europeans centuries before Columbus’ era.—J. V. M.
NOWADAYS fact that the it American is an indisputable continent was not only discovered but also colonized by the Norsemen some five hundred years before Columbus discovered the West Indies.
The acknowledgment of the Norsemen’s claim to priority, in regard to the discovery of America, ought not to throw any shadow on the fame of Columbus or diminish the value of his daring voyages, venturous as they were and undertaken in spite of ridicule by his distrustful contemporaries. But that the coasts of Greenland, Labrador, and the present United States, were not only known, but, also, that maps were drawn of these shores and adjacent territory long before 1492 (the year in which Columbus discovered the island of San Salvador) is acknowledged by all honest historians.
That Columbus has become known as the discoverer of America is mainly due to the ardor of the Roman Catholic Church. We can, without difficulty, appreciate the significance of Columbus as saint and discoverer of America to the Roman Catholic Church. This church has succeeded in making “Columbus Day” a national holiday in United States, and the historical facts relating to the discovery and colonization of the American continent by the Norsemen have been stamped as fables.
It is now almost beyond doubt that Columbus received his first thoughts on a new world in the West from Norse narratives. We know that he visited Iceland in the year of 1477. In a biography of Columbus, published by Ferdinand Colon, it is stated that in February, 1477, he sailed “100 leagues beyond the isle of Tile, which is now called Frislanda.” We also know with certainty that the island called “Frislanda” is the island that to-day is known as Iceland. And besides this we have other historical documents that tell of this visit. A Roman Catholic writer says that Columbus, during his visit to Iceland, received an inspiration from the Holy Ghost to search for a land far away in the West. Mr. Vignand, who for many years held the position as secretary at the American embassy in Paris, says in one of his historical works that Columbus was in possession of a fairly reliable map when he sailed towards the West. Three different maps of Greenland existed at that time. From the year 1477 we have narratives that mention one of these maps : the voyages and adventures of the Norsemen were well known to educated people of that time.
There _ are, also, certain reasons for asking if Columbus really intended making his voyage one of discovery. It is possible that he undertook his voyage for business purposes only: Washington Irving, who has written one of the best biographies of Columbus that we know of, states that he had five hundred slaves with him when he returned. The motives for the Columbian voyage may have been everything and anything, but the fact remains that America was discovered by the Norsemen almost five hundred years earlier.
TCELAND was first discovered about \ the year 861. In the “Sagas” it is stated that a Swede, by the name of Gardar Svafarsson, while on one of his voyages, was driven by the wind and landed on Iceland. He then gave the island the name of Gardarsholm after himself. Later on the island was discovered by Naddodd, who gave it the name of Snowland. Some years later the island was again visited by Vigerdeson, who changed the name to Iceland. The Norwegians began to settle on this island and established a republic there in the year of 874. This republic existed for some four hundred years, or, more definitely, to 1262. During this time a great amount of classic literature was brought about, through which we receive the most trustworthy information regarding the living and culture of the Scandinavian people at that time. It is from this literature that we first receive any information of the American continent.
Iceland had, even at that time, a lively connection with the rest of Europe and possessed a high degree of culture. Shortly after the introduction of Christianity on the island (year 1000) no less than four educational institutions were founded where young people were given opportunities to practise “Boklig Idrott” (Literary Sport).
From Iceland they sailed further on to Greenland. In the year 877, while sailing in the waters west of Iceland, a man by the name of_ Gunnbjornson saw a strip of land, which he named “Hvitsark” (White Shirt) on account of the masses of white snow, found thereon. Greenland was re-discovered one hundred years later by Eric the Red, who first directed his countrymen on their colonization voyages thither. Eric the Red was, according to several contemporary authorities, a Swede, descendant from the Swedish province of Bohuslan. He had killed a man and was therefore expelled from the country for three years. Having heard about the new land that Gunnbjornson had discovered, he decided to set out for it. Accordingly he sailed from “Snofjalls” glacier on Iceland and took a westward course until he reached land. He then followed the coast, southwards, and sailed around a cape (which he called “Hvarf” and which has been given the name of “Farewell” by modern geographers). Finally he reached a small, sheltered island on which he stopped over the winter. Eric the Red remained on this coast for three years. During that time he conducted research expeditions and laid plans for colonization. At a frith, which was called “The Firth of Eric,” he discovered rich pastures for cattle. There he erected his mansion “Brattalid.”
ERIC the Red returned to Iceland after having spent three years in this land. Shortly after his arrival in Iceland he gathered his relations and a large number of friends, who were willing to follow him on a new expedition to Greenland. No less than twenty-five ships were equipped for the voyage, which started in the spring of 986 from Iceland. Of these ships only fourteen arrived at their destination. The remainder were lost during the venturesome voyage.
Among those who participated in this expedition was Björne Harjulfsson, of whom it is said that, during a sailing trip from Greenland (year 896) he saw the continent of America.
The “Sagas” have much to say regarding Eric the Red, but we cannot in this connection dwell any longer with him as we must devote our time to his sons. Snorre Sturleson states that Eric the Red had four children, three sons, Leif, Thorvald and Thorsten, and one daughter, Frodis. .
Leif Ericson was an audacious man of great plans. He was not satisfied with having established commercial connections with Iceland and therefore decided to start direct communication with the Scandinavian countries. Consequently he equipped his ships and departed from Greenland on a voyage across the Atlantic in the year of 999. Norway was his destination. He succeeded with the aid of the scant knowledge he had about the sun and the stars to reach, first the Hebrides, and later the Norwegian coast. As far as historians know this was the first voyage across the Atlantic, and, without contradiction, a proof of greater courage and initiative than the voyage of Columbus, particularly when we know that Columbus through his intercourse with Norwegians and Icelanders knew such voyages had been made before his time, and also because the equipment of Leif Ericson’s ships in no way could be compared with those of Columbus.
The Nordic “Sagas” mention in several places voyages across the Atlantic. Evidence of such voyages can be found in the legends of Olof Trygvesson, written in Latin by Gunnlaug Liefson, a monk (year 1200). Taken from the Icelandic translation (year 1300) Liefson has the following to say in regard to direct sailings between Norway and Greenland: “So say men who know, that from Stadt in Norway it is seven days sailing to Horn, on the east coast of Iceland, but from Snefjellness, from where the route is shortest to Greenalnd, it is four days’ sailing towards the West across the ocean. It is also said, that when one travels from Bergen (Norway) to Hvarf on Greenland a course of seven miles to the south of Iceland should be taken.” ’ In another old document, that of Ivor Baardsons’ description of Greenland, the following is found: “It is two days and two nights sailing straight west from Snefjellness on Iceland to Greenland, and the Gunbiern rocks lie right in the centre of the course.”
Olof Trygvesson was the king who ruled in Norway at the time of Leif Ericson’s visit. This king, during a stay in England, had accepted Christianity and, upon his return home, he sought to introduce the Christian doctrine in his own country. Leif Ericson was a pagan when he arrived in Norway. Are Frode says that Eric the Red and his family moved from Iceland fourteen years before Christianity was introduced and accepted on the island. Through the powerful influence of Olof Trygvesson Leif soon became a Christian and was baptized.
When Leif in the following year returned to Greenland he promised the king that he would work for the introduction of the Christian doctrine amongst his people in his homeland. He also persuaded a Norwegian priest to accompany him to Greenland and there render his assistance to the introduction of Christianity.
But during the return voyage they happened to sail too far to the South, presumably driven by storms, and reached the coast of North America at a point so far south that vines grew there. Therefore he called the newly discovered land “Vinland.” They did not, however, have time for further investigations as they wanted to avoid the winter season and possible hindrance by ice. Therefore they _ returned at once to Greenland, arriving there in the fall of 1000.
1N THE legend of Olof Trygvesson the
following is told in regard to this voyage: “Same spring (year 1000) Leif Ericson was sent by King Olof to Greenland for the purpose of promulgating Christianity there. He departed the same summer. In the ocean he picked up a ship’s crew, found floating on a derelict, and then discovered ‘Vinland the Good.’ He arrived in the fall at Greenland, having with him a priest and some learned men. Upon his arrival at the island he visited his father at Brattalid. Eric now received the cogomen of ‘the Lucky.’ But his father said that the fact that he had rescued a shipwrecked crew was counterbalanced by his bringing to Greenland the ‘Hypocrite.’ thereby meaning the priest.”
In Boston an American scientist, convinced that he had found the place where Leif landed, has erected a memorial with the following inscription: “On this place in the year one thousand Leif Ericson built his house in Vinland.”
Bjarne Harjulfson, of whom mention has been made before, and who had seen the American coast, year 986, now received full corroboration of his narratives from Leif. The following year, after due deliberation, Eric started, on his proper journey of discovery, for Vinland. If we closely follow the accounts of this voyage we will find that the land Leif Ericson first saw resembled a great rock. Therefore he called it “Helluland” or Rocky Land, but when, after the landing they discovered beautiful woodlands and open spaces, they named it “Markland.” Presumably this was Nova Scotia. Later on the expedition found the place on the coast of which Bjarne had given a description; it resembled the country pictured in-his narratives even to the most minute details. There they found wild grapes or vines and a specimen of wild wheat as well as fruit of different kinds. From this it is obvious that it could not have been Greenland, or any other of the more northerly countries, that they had discovered, as certain critics have been pleased to point out. It is now accepted that the territory of which Leif Ericson took possession, is the country which is now known as Massachussetts, as the accounts of the expedition give ample support and testimony in favor of this assumption.
They returned to Greenland the year following and had much to relate in connection with their discovery. This induced others and especially Leif’s brother Thorvald, who thought that the new land had not been sufficiently explored, to try their luck. He bought a ship from Leif and departed in the spring of 1002 on a journey westward to find Vinland the Good, as Leif had named it. This voyage was also successful and Thorvald with his men found the cabins erected by Leif and took possession of them as their winter quarters.
We can readily understand the impressions that these adventurous Norsemen labored under when they found themselves subject to such entirely new'conditions. They tried to explore everything and made extensive journeys in the bays and in the surrounding country. As a result they gained a considerable knowledge of the territory in which they dwelled.
Meanwhile they also found that the country was inhabited by a certain kind of people whom they called “Skrallingar” (“bads”). They often came to fights with these and Thorvald was wounded by a poisoned arrow. He succumbed after a period of suffering and was buried there. Thorvald was a Christian and asked his men to erect a cross on his grave. This was the first Christian burial in America.
The expedition remained in the country about two years. During this time they had reached the territory now called Connecticut and journeyed from there still further southward. How far south they really ventured can not be definitely stated. However, we are, through Indian traditions, led to believe that traces of them have been found as far south as Maryland. From old documents we also know that their intention was to settle down in this new country.
LEIF had several brothers and one of J them, Thorsten Ericson, next decided to journey to Vinland the Good. His voyage was not successful, however. On the ocean he encountered severe storms and was driven about without knowing where he was. Finally, after several months on the ocean, he returned to Brattalid, where he died shortly after.
At this time it so happened that a Swede, by the name of Thorfin Karlsefne, came to Greenland. This man was a descendant of Bjorn Jarnsida, of whom we read in Swedish history. He married the widow of Thorsten Ericson, Gudrid, and so came to stop with these seafarers over the winter. Much was told to him during the long winter evenings about Vinland, the land that his wife’s brothersin-law had discovered, and as a result Karlsefne also decided to proceed thither. But he was not satisfied with reconnoitering only. In. his own ship he took with him six men, five women and all kinds of cattle. The first winter in the new land elapsed without any difficulties, but in the summer the Indians made themselves known when they came from the woods with bundles of fur, which they wanted to trade for milk and other things.
In this connection it is perhaps well to mention that during the second period in the history of the colony, year 1008, a son was born to Karlsefne and his wife Gudrid. Hence this was the first child born by white parents in this country—a Swedish child. He was given the name of Snorre and was after his father called Thorfinson. He became the progenitor of the sculptor Thorwaldsen and the well known poet Bjornstjerne Bjornson.
In the meantime the Indians showed themselves in ever increasing numbers and fate willed it that their meetings with the colonists should not pass off as well as the first one did. A conflict finally ensued in which the Northmen bravely fought against an overwhelming number of Indians and killed many of them. The survivors fled. After this experience Thorfin decided to abandon the project which with such carefulness he had started. He remained in Vinland the rest of the winter, but returned the following spring to Greenland, taking with him a cargo of grapes and furs but also realizing that his attempted colonization was a failure. This set-back did not discourage others from repeated attempts to colonize the new land, as we shall see.
From this time we have records of several voyages made by different persons to Vinland. We also know that a bishop named Jon, journeyed to Vinland to take care of the people’s spiritual requirements. This took place 1059. Bishop Jon was however murdered and thus became the first martyr in the new world. After him came Eric Gnupason, previously Bishop of Greenland, but who in 1121 was ordained Bishop of Vinland by no less a personage than the Archbishop of Lund (Sweden). Old documentary evidence shows that from the year 1150 to 1408 no less than fifteen bishops were ordained to serve in Greenland and Vinland. Churches were erected, which means that congregations had been established, so that in the twelfth century Vinland had, taking the time and circumstances into consideration, a well constructed social edifice.
The congregations in Vinland and Greenland must have had direct connections with the papal headquarters in Rome. In the library of the Vatican are documents showing that the Pope derived an income from the dioceses across the Atlantic. One of these is dated: “Ann. Dom. MCCCXXII et die mensis Augusti.”
FROM a bull issued by Pope Nicholas V, in 1448, we learn that the churches in Greenland and Vinland had suffered a great loss thirty years previously through Indian attacks. Nine parishes, however, were spared. Pilgrimages were made from Greenland to Rome in which persons from Vinland participated. All this goes to show that Vinland was well known to the high officials in Rome. Then why not to the rest of educated Europe?
The Icelandic legends are unimpeachably corroborated by the historian Canon Adam of Bremen. In a literary work entitled, “De situ Daniae,” published in 1073, he tells of Vinland: he claims with certainty that it was not a fable but accurate information that he received from the Danes (“non fabulosa opinione, sed certa Danorum comperimus relatione.”) It is also worth while noting that this literary work was published many years before the Norse legends were collected or before anyone had opportunity to learn the facts from the Norse writings.
Besides this work there are the reports of the bishops as well as letters to the Pope, and there is a Roman narrative from the thirteenth century, written by Antonius Zeno. In the year 1390, Zeno’s brother, Nichola, made a voyage to northern waters and visited Greenland. Later on he was shipwrecked near Frislanda (Faroe Islands). There he entered into service with a Norse sea king and participated in many adventures. Antonius arrived at Faroe Islands in 1392, and remained here fourteen years, during which time he wrote his narrative. He tells of an incident that occured in 1360 when a few fishermen were driven from their course and were shipwrecked near a land that they called Estitolanda. Here they were cordially received by the king and here they found a large, beautiful town with many curiosities and amongst them books in the Latin language. But there Was only one man that could read them. He had arrived at Estitolanda in a somewhat similar manner as the fishermen and rendered service there as an interpreter. After many hardships the fishermen managed to equip a ship and return to Frislanda. The narrative is accompanied by a map that still exists. The great modern explorer Nordenskiold declares that this narrative and map are entirely trustworthy; that they could not have been invented by inexperienced persons.
When the first settlers at the time of Columbus arrived at a certain place it is stated that they found a lively industrial town with totally different modes of living than those of the natives. In this city, John Walker found a tannery where he counted three hundred large buffalo hides that measured eighteen feet square. The name of the city was Norumbega.
From the time of John Cabot, who in i4T9 re-discovered this part of the American continent, to and including Wintrop 1634' no less than seventeen different explorers mention the city or district of Norumbega, which on their maps they have placed near the 43rd parallel. Thevet. who visited the place in 1556, placed the town at 42 14", which is not far from the location of Boston (42v 18'). When Daniel Ingraham visited Norumbega in 1569 he states that the town extended over three quarters of a mile, and Bellinger counted no less than eightydwellings within the town’s limits. Norumbega was therefore with certainty the same place as Zenos Estitolanda.
Prof. E. N. Horsford after deep research has become fully convinced that the present Charles river was the old Norumbega river and that the city with the same name was located on its shores. He is also convinced that the present city of Y atertown. Mass., is built on the old ruins of Norumbega. On the boundaries between Cambridge and Watertown he found the place where Leif Ericson erected his “granaries" and was also successful in finding the foundations of the houses, that, according to descriptions, were erected, as well as certain tools and other things belonging to the Norse colonists. A memorial stone to the honor of the \ ikings has been erected in Watertown.
BUT these are not the only evidences by which we substantiate the Norse discovery of America. Several remarkable inscriptions on stone have been found, which indisputably testify to the fact that the Northmen established colonies in the present state of Rhode Island. In a letter dated October 31, 1835, and written by Dr. Thomas H. Webb, then secretary of Rhode Island Historical Society, to Prof. C. C. Rafn, in Denmark, a description of the position of these stones as well as the inscriptions found thereon is given. There are three such stones on which the inscriptions are plainly visible.
The most noted of these stones is the one called The Assonet Stone, or The Dighton Rock, as it is also called, and which is located on the east shore of the river Tanton. This stone measures twelve feet in length and five in width. The inscriptions on the Assonet Stone have been interpreted by several men of authority and all more or less agree that the inscriptions have the following meaning.
“We first note the Roman numerals ('XXXI (131;. Close to the same we find a composite figure which can be interpreted as meaning the letters NAM, and under this figure to the left, we find a letter which closely resembles a P, but which undoubtedly is the Nordic rune thorn analogous to Th, and on the other side of a figure of a woman we find the word ORFINS. The whole inscription therefore reads: ‘C XXX I nam Thor fins.' Our ancestors counted 120 units to the the hundred, therefore we find that the letter C means 120; with a further addition of XXXI we arrive at the sum of 151. This was the number of men and women that accompanied Thorfin Karlsefne’s expedition to Yinland. ‘ Nam' is undoubtedly an imperfectum of the Icelandic verb nema (compare the German nehmen) and means to take. It is sometimes used in the Nordic sagas in place of nam; la.nd, wherefore the whole of the inscription means: ‘Thorfin’s 151 (men) took (the land) in possession.’ ”
The round tower in Newport, Rhode Island, is also considered as being a relic from the time of the Norse colonization attempts in Yinland. Prof. R. G. Hatfield published an article regarding this tower in Scribner's Magazine, March 1879, in which he makes the following statement: “We know with certainty that this tower was erected and used as a baptismal chapel and ought therefore be given its correct name: ‘The Baptismal Chapel of Yinland.’ It is the oldest Christian building in America, at least 800 years old. It should be preserved as an historical monument and be used as a museum.” After having brought forth these evidences, showing that the Norsemen were the first discoverers and colonizers of the American continent, the question arises: What was the final fate of these colonies? To this question we can answer that the world was not then ripe for such a discovery. The Norsemen were left alone with their discovery. Not even the Scandinavian mother countries showed any interest for these colonization plans, engaged as they were in wars and quarrels. The rest of Europe had its eyes upon Jerusalem, to where armies, counted in the millions, marched under the sign of the Cross and with the intention of capturing the grave of Christ. The Pope was at that time the autocratic ruler of the world and he had other things to attend to instead of paying attention to colonization projects in America.
The colonists would have survived in spite of this had it not been for the most deadly and mightiest of all enemies to humanity: the black death, which during the years 1348-1350 demanded such vast human sacrifices. At least twenty-five million Europeans died from this plague within a few months and it is known that Iceland, Greenland and Yinland suffered greatly from the ravages of the disease. It is obvious that the journeys to America should stop under such circumstances. It was, later on, an easy matter for the Indians to attack and destroy the remnants of the colonists.
The fact that Leif Ericson was the first discoverer of America is gaining an ever increasing support from authorities and, to-day, there are three splendid statues erected to this brave man’s honor. These statues are found in Boston, Milwaukee and Chicago. There is, also, a memorial stone in Watertown and a statue of Thorfin Karlsefne in Philadelphia. It is only right that we should give honor to whom honor is due.